Feature Article of Monday, 30 April 2012

Columnist: Otchere-Darko, Asare

NPP Shouldn’t Compete With NDC On Who Is ‘Uglier’

.....Focus On The Concerns Of Ghanaians

By Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko

There are growing concerns over the way the opposition New Patriotic Party appears to be allowing itself to be dragged into the arena of ugly contest with the ruling National Democratic Congress. Over the last few weeks, the debate on radio and TV has been about who is uglier, with NPP and NDC recounting the other’s record of violence, ethnocentric remarks, etc.

Ugly competition is the most useless strategy ever in a political campaign. It wins the competitor very little or nothing. What it does is to put the public off. The message to the public from a competition of who is the ugliest is that none of the competitors is essentially attractive. It is a no win contest.

Moreover, this competition of the ugly plays right into the hands of the NDC. It is their home ground, NPP goes there in a poor-fit away kit, facing boos from the popular spectator stands as they attempt to play and win a match with a formation that the players are not familiar or comfortable with.

The NDC, on the other hand, have very little to lose because they -- as inadvertently articulated by the NDC MP for Adenta, Adu Asare, on Joy FM’s Newsfile last Saturday -- have a historical image of violence, insults and aggression. He went on to add, contestably, that the NPP has now overtaken the NDC.

The NPP’s response to this is not to stay on the road of negative recollection of NDC violence, et al. The NPP response is to shift the debate back to where it matters: by focusing on the concerns and aspirations of the people of Ghana.

The NDC is happy for the discourse not to be about real issues confronting Ghanaians, like unemployment, cost of living, cedi depreciation, cost of doing business, cost and standards of education, access to quality healthcare, corruption, etc.

Whatever thin line existed between the Mills presidency and hypocrisy has been depleted by his selective responses to issues. For the entire first 12 months of President Mills’ administration, his party footsoldiers were on the rampage across the country seizing public toilets, taking over public offices in their districts, attacking workers, DCEs etc.

When the President was asked why he hadn’t taken action against the creeping mobocracy (rule of the mob), his excuse was that the unruly party youth were acting in frustration for being jobless.

We can only assume that they are now happily employed. But, what then happens to the millions of other young men and women who are not NDC party footsoldiers and cannot, therefore, find a decent job with a decent pay? Should they also go on a rampage before the ears of the presidency would be free of wax? This is an example of the relevant linkages that NPP canvassers and communicators must be making.

The NPP risks blurring the distinction between itself and the NDC; that very defining line which has made the former attractive to independent voters throughout its history. It should stop trying to compete with the NDC on the NDC’s turf and take the fight to where it matters – to the homes and workplaces of the people.

More and more, Ghanaians are seeing President Mills and his team as losing touch with the concerns of ordinary Ghanaians. It is the duty of the Republic’s opposition (the NPP) to take the issues back on track. NPP stands to lose more than the NDC by spitting venom and staying on the kind of topics that have dominated the political sphere over the last few weeks.

It is the hope that Dr Mahamudu Bawumia will bring it all back to basics: the economy. Nana Akufo-Addo’s running mate addresses the nation this Wednesday on the real state of the Ghanaian economy, from the standpoint of a highly respected economist who happens to be the number two man on the ticket of the government-in-waiting.

His address at the College of Physicians & Surgeons this Wednesday evening should serve as the NPP story on how the Mills-Mahama administration has either managed or mismanaged the economy within this four years and why Ghanaians deserve better.

Incidentally, his direct counterpart, Vice President John Mahama, is the head of government’s economic management team. The Vice President recently launched the Green Book II, which sets out how the NDC sees itself as having spent our state resources over its four-year mandate. It would be interesting to hear the NPP view from its vice presidential candidate, as well.

It is critical for the NPP to use the grain from this speech by Dr Bawumia to drive back the debate onto the road of material public interest. To lose this opportunity is to allow the conductors of negative propaganda the undue auditorium to determine the melody, rhythm and tempo of what ought to be music to the ears of a frustrated Ghanaian public.

What is encouraging is that, without even fully getting into the campaign mode of articulating what alternative policies and programmes the Akufo-Addo-Bawumia team has for Ghanaians, the NPP is doing pretty well. In sum, the NDC has done enough to lose the election; it is up to the NPP to do enough to win the election.

And, winning means winning by a non-riggable margin.

If in doubt analyse the trends in the registration exercise and see where public enthusiasm has been most manifest and draw your own conclusion on why.

The biometric voter registration (BVR) exercise should end this week. In spite of all the well-publicised problems, including initial processing hiccups, bussing and registration of ineligibles, namely foreigners and minors, some notable but containable cases of violence, intimidation, theft and unauthorised registrations, this voter register is expected to be a marked improvement on the previous one. It has the potential to be the most credible ever.

At the end of the first 30 days of the BVR programme, 10.5 million names had been placed on the voters’ list. In 2008, the voters’ list had a total of 12,472,758 names on it.

At the end of this 40-day registration exercise, we are likely to have a similar voter population to that of 2008. The Danquah Institute estimates between 12.6 million to 12.8 million people representing the voter population of Ghana for 2012. Thus, regardless of the expected rush to beat the deadline during this final 10 days, a little over 2 million people are likely to be included to conclude the exercise.

Going by annual population growth rate, ordinarily, the voter population this year should be around 13,875,360. However, the 2008 list was notorious for being bloated. On December, 7, 2008, a total of 8,671,272 votes were counted, including multiple voting and ballot box stuffing. For the presidential run-off of that year, 9,094,364 votes were counted. These translate into a voter turnout of 69.5% for the 1st round and 72.9% for the run-off.

This year, based on the shortness of the period between the registration exercise and voting day, also, going by the additional biometric integrity of this voters’ list, and the mood of the public and their apparent eagerness to make their votes count, we may register an unprecedented high voter turnout in the history of the Fourth Republic, at least.

At the moment, the Danquah Institute is estimating 80%-85% voter turnout. Some are even putting it as high as 90%.

Generally, the registration exercise has gone quite well and far better than all the bad publicity surrounding it may seem to suggest. The NPP has very little to worry about. It must now concentrate on being battle-ready for an issues-based campaign.

It has very little reason sounding alarm bells and flaming the kinds of discussion that may frighten people off the polling booth. The greatest motivation for any party activist is to change one’s circumstances from that of opposition to a position in government. That is itself enough to inspire hard work, with little logistical support and positive encouragement from the leadership.

Hunger and anger have combined so obtrusively to motivate NPP activists. On top of that, is the growing feeling that victory is within their party’s grasp.

This is not the time to mess it all up by accepting an invitation to compete with the NDC on who is the ugliest of them all. The NPP need not show that it is more macho than the NDC. It must use an enhanced strategy for the protection of the ballot. It is not achieved merely by sounding militant.

The language of the NPP must be measured. Instead of saying “beat up people who try to steal a ballot box”, say, “stop anyone who tries to steal a ballot box.” The NPP only needs to keep reminding its agents and supporters, in a very clear but calm language to be vigilant, calm, knowledgeable and exercise legitimate courage in the face of any intimidation or fraud that may come their way between now and voting day, especially.

In the words of party chairman Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, NPP activists must be encouraged to stay focused and be vigilant. “They should have courage and stay on the right side of the law,” he stressed.

In the view of the Danquah Institute, the opposition party can do all the above successfully without maintaining an off-putting posture. The people see the party as having people with competence and intelligence, and if that is the public image that you have then cherish that perception of higher decency and optimise it to your electoral advantage. Don’t disprove it to the undecided voter at this crucial period.

Use intelligent strategies, similar to what we saw in 2000, to promote your candidates, party and message to win voters to your side and, on V-day, protect your ballot.

Essentially, the NPP must quickly move the focus of public discourse to that zone of comfort for itself and, coincidentally, of relevance to the voting public: the zone of issues. This is one area that the ruling party knows it cannot win and this is the area that matters. Let us make that the domineering boundaries of public discourse.

Any discerning observer, even without the benefit of opinion polls, will say that the New Patriotic Party is on course to winning this year’s presidential and parliamentary elections. One such recent poll I have seen gives the NPP presidential candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo, a solid likely voter share of 48.90% and President JEA Mills, 41%.

What is most instructive about this and many other polls is that there is a critical mass of some 10% of undecided voters out there, and that is where the battle is to be won and fought.

The job of the NPP may seem easier than that of the NDC. But, when your target is to win by a non-riggable margin then you must be scientific and tactical in both your approach and posture.

For the NPP, their first task is to protect the 6.1-6.3 million or so votes that the party appears to have in the bag, as against the NDC’s 5.1-5.25 million. There is some extra 1.3 million floating votes out there who the two big parties have to reach out to swing and pull to their respective sides.

Even more instructive is how recent surveys are showing that the combined core, immovable support base of NDC and NPP amounts to 75% of the voter population. That leaves a huge chunk of votes out there for the picking, not only for the two main parties but for the smaller parties, as well, to nibble on some.

That deciding pool of flexible voters, whether 1 million or 3 million, will not be persuaded by insults or violence to swim to party A or B. They will not be attracted by what goes on in the arena of ugly contest.

For the NPP to lose track of this is to veer off track and drive itself away from those it needs to court to cross the finishing line first and decisively.

The battle is about who looks good to voters and not who looks less ugly. Who can be trusted to deliver. This is the nature of the reality show called Election 2012.

The author is the Executive Director of the Danquash Institute, a centre-right policy think tank with links to the NPP.